We got out to the Gold Coast nice and early which allowed for plenty of time to overcome the jet lag and stretch the legs. Our first week was spent in some nice self catering apartments, room 1 was the dream team super 6 from Glasgow (myself, Colin Gregor, Ross Miller, James Eddie, Sean Kennedy and Adam Ashe) and room two consisted of the ‘other’ 6 (Andy Turnbull, Scott Riddell, Michael Fedo, Struan Dewar, James Fleming and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne). The apartments were in a fantastic location, a minute’s walk from training facilities and the supermarket.
After a few light days to flush out the legs we got down to some serious training.
Thursday was an eye opener as to what it was going to take to play at a high intensity in such demanding weather conditions: 30 degree heat with a spotlight sun chasing us everywhere. Preparations were hindered a bit by some niggling injuries, however our early arrival in Australia gave our physio the chance to get everyone fit and healthy by the time the tournament came around, hats off to her. The one exception was the unfortunate Sean Kennedy whose hamstring tear proved too much to ask in such a short turnaround time, a real shame as he was showing promising signs of being a really exciting talent and a big personality within the squad. However his injury provided an opportunity for Kerr Gossman and as we moved to the official tournament hotel Kerr joined us for what would be a big week’s preparation.
Staying in the hotel with all the other teams meant the buzz and excitement not only within our camp but around the whole hotel really increased and of course the boys enjoyed having their meals provided for them and their beds made! Before we knew it we had completed our captain’s run at Skilled Park and game day was just around the corner. The last thing before we set off to relax for the last time was a team meeting and jersey presentation. It was a somewhat interesting meeting, and when we finished up there was a real sense of confidence and high spirit amongst the group. We had done our analysis, picked our strategies and were excited and anxious to get our season under way and achieve our aims of making a cup quarter final!
The day started the same as every other day that week: get up; weigh in; our morning activity; then breakfast. Our first game was relatively late for a sevens tournament (13.19 v England) which allowed for a couple of hours to relax, fuel the body and get mentally prepared for what was to be a gruelling weekend. It may sound a bit daft but some of us like to go for a little “blow out” prior to the first game which consists of short intense exercise to try and get the lungs and legs going. The intention is to make it easier to catch your breath or second wind come the first tie – something that was made even more challenging by the baking heat and an enclosed stadium that didn’t allow for a breath of wind. Believe me it felt like we could spontaneously combust at any time!
We got off to a flyer versus England, retaining ball at the kick off and going through a couple of phases before Budgie [Colin Gregor] half broke feeding Fedo to burst through and step the sweeper before chucking his first good pass since arriving in Australia. It was a 25 metre spin to big James Eddie cantering down the touchline. I don’t think any of the people watching could quite believe it when he gunned past England’s James Brake to score in the corner! The try actually made one of the 7 of the best on RugbyDump.
After that we simply could not get the ball and we lost a crucial try on the stroke of half time to go in 12-5 down. England introduced Damu at half time and he added an extra bite to their attack, seeming to take forever to hit the ground when tackled allowing him to offload at will. He was at the heart of another two scores where we simply were unable to get the ball off them. We were gutted.
We regrouped and knew we must defend better if we were to beat Wales and stand a chance of progressing to the cup. We had shown we were dangerous with ball in hand but it had been getting that precious little egg that had proved the problem. Again we started well and Riddell made an unbelievable pick up off his toes from a very loose Horne offload, barely breaking stride as he scooped it up. He then showed a clean set of heels and a brilliant fend to score in the corner, a truly brilliant piece of individual finishing and skill. We were unlucky not to add to this when Eddie lost control of the ball as he crashed over the line on the end of a slick passing play. We grouped together on the buzzer with our tails up listening to Graham Shiel give the orders for the second half. Fleming came into the frame and showed what a magnificent and dangerous finisher he can be gassing Wales pace man Ifan Evans to cross in the corner and run round under the posts. 12-0 with 5mins to play.
We defended better but lost a cheap score due to a miscommunication in the wide channel which allowed Wales a lifeline, one they would be sure to take…
Wales broke from deep with no time left on the clock and little Andrew Turnbull somehow managed to clothesline the player resulting in a yellow card. We clung on for another few phases and at one point could have won it when the Welsh prop fumbled over the line from a quick tap, however he hadn’t taken it from the mark and they got a second chance. They tapped and went on the outside arc and dived over from a metre out. Fair play to the kicker who sent the ball through the sticks to break our hearts.
Walking off the pitch and over to the bikes to do our active recovery we were sick. Yet again we had let slip an outstanding chance of turning over one of the top teams, there was frustration, anger and a real sense of disappointment. It was a shame really as if we had closed out that win it would have topped off a fine display.
I feel we learned a lot from that game. It proved we may well be a far better outfit than this time last year, but we were still far from any sort of finished article. To become one of the top teams and make the jump to the top 8 we were going to have to start coming out of these games on the right side of the scoreline and stop letting precious opportunities slip. However, despite the defeat, we regrouped and were hungry for the game that night, against a big, physical, hard-hitting Tonga team.
Considering it was game three we were in fine fettle during the warm up. Of course the boys were suffering from the usual knocks and bumps but the extra few weeks fitness was proving to be worth the hard work at the time. We again started well and got the scoreboard going through a fantastic chip and chase from Turny who trotted under the sticks to give us a 7-0 lead. This saw us through to half time as we failed to take a couple of chances in attack to stretch the lead but our defence was holding firm. We scored after the break to go 14-0 with myself diving over but disappointingly never really pushed on and put the Tongans to the sword. We slipped off a couple of tackles and let them into the game for the first time, they scored two tries, one of which after the hooter, to make it 14-12.
At the end of the day the biggest upset was that we were going to be losing Struan Dewar to a bad hamstring. Apart from that the feeling was good. There were a lot of positives to be taken from our games as we had played some really good sevens and were looking dangerous. We set ourselves the goal of winning the bowl and gaining lots of momentum to take to Dubai…